Emaar Canada’s 819 Yates proposal

May 14, 2008 at 12:49 pm 6 comments

I thought this blog would be heavy on urban design with a smattering of social issues but it seems to be the reverse lately, especially with the needle exchange and shelter issues getting all the headlines.

But I did want to mention a Downtown condo proposal that will soon appear in the quickly evolving area around Blanshard Street. 819 Yates is a condo project that has been through six major iterations over the last couple of years. The Times Colonist profiled it in yesterday’s edition. Here’s my two bits:

Robert Randall, Victoria Downtown Residents’ Association chairman, is pleased Emaar plans to construct the taller tower next to Yates Street and the lower one on the View Street side. “It kind of makes sense to preserve a little bit of a few corridor on View.”

He is hoping to see the mid-block public walkway on the east side of the property because that would make it more useful for pedestrians than if located next to the existing theatre building on the west side.
The association supports the density on the site, saying that area can handle it, he said.

If the second sentence doesn’t make sense it’s because I said “view corridor”, not “few corridor” to the deadline-facing reporter.

It wasn’t just the view of the steeple that warranted a shorter tower, it was also the narrower, residential character of View St. vs. the broad arterial of Yates St. The plan to switch the walkway to the west sounded crazy to me. I told Emaar one of the meetings we had with them that they were reinventing the wheel and that if they had read the 819 Yates thread on Vibrant Victoria they could have saved themselves some time and money. The walkway and heights were discussed to death back in 2006, and Council said loud and clear that they didn’t like the idea of a tall, wide building acting as a wall on the border of Harris Green. One Councillor made a reference to View Towers which was a low blow, but most people agreed that a staggered massing (one tower shorter than the other) made the most sense, even if it meant adding the lost height onto the other tower, poking it past the height limit.

A few Councillors expressed concern about the viability of the mid-block walkway even when it was located on the east side of the lot so why they thought moving it even closer to Blanshard would be a good idea was a mystery to me. I’m glad to see it back on the east side although even that is a dumb location for it. The spot was designated for a mid-block walkway many years ago but no reason was given as to why it had to go at that end of the Capitol 6 parking lot and not at the block’s true mid-point: closer to where The Wave condo and the St. Vincent de Paul buildings meet. This would have also lined up with the existing mid-block walkway alongside the Yates Centre office building to the north. Incidentally, the interface between the St. Vincent de Paul and the parking lot delineates the border between Downtown and Harris Green. The owners of 819 Yates shouldn’t have had the burden of building this walkway, especially as it appeared the City lost interest in having one there–after all, why else would the planning department have approved a zero-lot line (no setback) on the west-facing side of the St. Vincent de Paul? You can’t have a safe, inviting, vibrant walkway when the eastern half is a giant blank wall and a loading dock.

The 800 block Yates/View is a dog’s breakfast of urban design and I can only hope that Emaar’s last piece of the puzzle can rescue it. It will be a challenge in today’s tough market. Construction of The Wave was delayed eight months while suitably solid ground could be found to sink pilings. And 819 Yates was (like many Downtown sites) home to a gas station, which means potential contaminated soil which could require extensive remediation.

I haven’t seen the latest renderings but the architect is Busby Perkins + Will who have done some decent work.

Entry filed under: architecture, media, urban design.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yule Heibel  |  May 14, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Good commentary & summing up, Rob. I agree that the “mid”-block walkway is a real problem. When we saw the renderings produced by Busby Perkins + Will, I thought that placing it to the West made the most sense in terms of their new building design (it allows them to create a courtyard for their buildings on the West, where they’ll catch the most sun/ light), but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a “mid” block amenity. Putting the walkway to the East seems actually detrimental to the buildings’ design options, so that seems dumb too.

    As for the dog’s breakfast aspect to Yates: so true, and it’ll take a stroke of genius to rescue that dish. I agree with the comments on Vibrant Victoria’s forum thread that suggest that a predominantly glazed building might be just the thing to break up the monotony of dull-and-bad, which currently dominates that block.

    I also think that a key problem on that street is the absence of a tight streetwall. The Wave sets a very bad example here, and the City hasn’t helped, since I don’t really understand what those undulating green swathes of grass are supposed to do with their sidewalk interruptions. My dog likes them, but that’s about it. Imagine instead if buildings like the Wave didn’t have that weird jiggered setback nonsense (this much here, that much there, with no rhyme or reason as to why, and which simply breaks up the streetwall), and the sidewalks were wide and generous and truly sidewalks, not pretend grassy boulevards. Then you could tables and chairs on them and still have enough room for pedestrian circulation.

    Reply
  • 2. robertrandall  |  May 14, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Undulating boulevards are about as welcome on a busy street as an escalator or elevator that pauses halfway to let riders relax and think peaceful thoughts. There are better ways to introduce whimsy into the urban environment. These wavy grass patches mean that areas of sidewalk are unusable while the grassy areas create pinch points and are trampled, becoming muddy and unsightly.

    Lack of a streetwall is a real problem. The original proposal calling for an above ground parkade in the podium would have been a good fix here but was nixed by those that don’t realize that what is an eyesore in many locations can be an elegant solution in others.

    I’ve never gotten a straight answer from City Hall on the walkway location and I suspect there’s no one in Planning that goes back far enough to remember why that inferior location was specified.

    Reply
  • 3. robertrandall  |  March 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    It’s still a parking lot. I suspect it’s on hold for a while.

    Reply
  • 4. robertrandall  |  April 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    The April 5, 2009 edition of the Times Colonist gives an update on several stalled projects, including 819 Yates:

    “Developer: Emaar Canada Location: 819 Yates St., Victoria, immediately east of the Capital 6 Type of development: Residential with ground-floor retail Height: Two towers, 17 and 12 storeys Size: About 140,000 sq. ft. (between 150 and 170 units) Construction value: $40 million Status: Pending Comment: Company representative Dana Samis says .Emaar is now surveying the market and finishing drawings, looking at a construction start of later this year or early next, depending on the market. “We’re still fully committed with going ahead with our project .… We think the design and the offering will be perfect for what downtown Victoria is looking for.”

    Reply
  • 5. robertrandall  |  April 13, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Update: April 2009

    Emaar Canada now has its own website but oddly, it’s not linked from the international site.

    http://www.emaarcanada.com/

    Reply
  • 6. Keith  |  July 4, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    I will be glad when construction starts on this building, This street really needs a facelift.

    Reply

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